A Maui parrotbill that was thought to have died over one and a half years ago has been spotted on the slopes of a Maui volcano. The golden thick-billed bird was spotted on Wednesday by Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources researcher Zach Pezzillo after recognizing its song. The bird is one of seven kiwikiu birds introduced to Maui’s Nakula Natural Area Reserve in October 2019. Five of the birds died from avian Malaria, while the remaining two were believed to have died in the wild.
The spotting has reignited hope among researchers about restoring the population of the kiwikiu. Commonly referred to as the Maui parrotbill, kiwikiu birds are an endangered species according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. The bird once occupied all of Maui and neighboring islands, but human activities and preditors have driven their population to about 150 birds.
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Pezzillo says that it was easy recognizing the bird because of the band on his leg. He was identified as Wild #1 based on the band from the 2019 translocation. Pezzillo says that recognized the song of the bird last Wednesday before moving closer to spot it.
“It then sang about ten times across a gulch in some koa trees. It dropped down into some kolea trees where it spent the next twenty minutes calling and actively foraging through the berries, bark, and leaves. I walked down into the gulch to get a closer look,” Pezzillo said in a statement.
Dr. Hanna Moucne of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project has welcomed the news, saying that the bird has shown strong resilience to survive in the wild that long. She says that the bird fighting diseases and predators to survive this long indicates that the entire species can be salvaged and restored.
“This bird has been exposed to disease, as the others were, and has somehow persevered,” said Moucne. “This is an amazing sign of hope for the species as we still may have time to save them. This is a hopeful sign that a population of kiwikiu and other native forest birds could survive in restored landscapes in the future, especially without mosquitoes and disease.”
Following the recent success story, researchers will be doing more to try and expand the population of the kiwikiu.
Lead image via Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project